Tuesday, April 01, 2014


What a great weekend.  Saturday the weather was warm and the cherry blossoms were in full bloom near our house in Yokohama.  We spent the day in the park having a picnic with kids and dogs and relaxing under the pink canopy that is Japan's annual ohanami, or cherry=blossom viewing season.

Monday morning it was bright and sunny, and I made my way to the train station ready to go back to work.  Some people had different plans, however.

Yesterday morning there were three different train suicides on three different train lines.  In Japanese, jinshinjiko 人身事故, suggests a "accident involving people", but it is generally no accident.  When this expression is used, it means that someone has committed suicide by jumping onto the tracks in front of an oncoming train.  I am sure this happens in many places around the world (my photo is actually a train in the UK), but for some reason this phenomenon strikes me as uniquely Japanese.  Japan already has one of the highest rates of suicide of any developed country, and suicide is the leading cause of death for males aged 20-44.  Japan is also first among G8 nations for female suicides.

People tend to do this during the morning rush hour commute (the Chuo Rapid Line in Tokyo is legendary for it), although it can happen at night as well.    In Japan, the train schedules are very precise, some say the most precise in the world.  Many commuters also make multiple connections to subways or other train lines and depend on everything running on time.  When this kind of accident happens, the stations nearby have to be stopped while police and company staff investigate.  Typical delays can be 1-2 hours, and sometimes over 100,000 people have their routes affected.  If it is done at night, some people have no other way to return home or end up getting home well after midnight because of the delays.

It seems odd to me that for a country that takes such care to be polite, train suicides represent the ultimate affront to other commuters.  Doing this in the rush hour may be because some people are unable to face their upcoming day at work or school or whatever, or it may be just a type of social outcry.  Top reasons are listed as work-related, financial-related, or other social pressures.  At the office, someone darkly joked that three in a single morning might be because Japan is raising its sales consumption tax from 5% to 8% from today.  I hope people don't get that upset about it.  Other studies suggest it may have a correlation with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or other weather events such as prolonged periods of cloudy/rainy weather.

I suppose when it happens, like yesterday, and we are all stuck on the trains for hours while officials sort everything out, all we can think about is our own inconvenience.  I was guilty of that as well.  In retrospect, I feel somewhat ashamed for not being focused on the victims and their families.  Japan is increasing spending on counseling for troubled people, including teens, but it is well behind other developed nations and still far from the social support network that is needed.
Especially in Tokyo, Japan can seem like a grim and foreboding place where it is not easy to make new friends or develop social connections.

No matter how bad things appear, there is ALWAYS a way forward; ALWAYS a way to find happiness.  The world can indeed be a harsh and cruel place, but there is a lot to be thankful for every single day, every single breath.  More and more, I learn that it is the simple things in life that give me the most joy - my family, my friends, my dogs.  I have been lucky to find my life passion in Kali Majapahit, and to be able to share this gift with the people close to me.

I pray for the souls of those who died yesterday and wish them peace.
More than that I wish there had been some way to sit down and talk it over before they made the fateful decision to do what they did.

It's another beautiful day out today, with a gentle breeze across the cherry trees.
I wish you could be here to see it.

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